I was watching a TV show commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the ship that was supposed to be unsinkable, and it took me back to my childhood and memories of my Grandmother’s house. I lived in Philadelphia, in a row house, and the only trees or open spaces we knew there were in the parks. At Grandmother’s house there was a meadow that Jones Falls ran through. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s it was home to several cotton mills. There were hundreds of trees to climb and make Tarzan swings in. It was a child’s playground and paradise.
My sisters and brothers and I spent our summer vacations with my Grandmother Sarah. She lived at the top of a steep hill on 1517 Baldwin Street in Baltimore. Back then, Baldwin Street was made of cobblestones. Her house was wooden and out front there was a gas streetlamp. Grandmother’s house had a big front porch and a yard full of flowers. It was a three story home with six rooms and a summer kitchen out back. The rooms were very large, there were only two on each floor. In those days people cooked in the summer kitchen to help keep the house cool but in the winter Grandmother cooked on the big iron coal and woodburning cookstove. It made the kitchen a cozy place. On one side of cookstove there was a rocking chair, a favorite place to sit that us kids fought over.
|Grandmother Sarah & Papa 1919|
We called the living room the ‘front room’ and it was furnished with heavy black leather hobnailed chairs and a sofa. There was a small woodstove in the front room that, along with the winter wool rugs, kept the room snug on cold winter days. When summer came Grandfather, who we called Papa, would take up the heavy wool carpets and carry them to the back yard where they were hung over the clothesline and he would beat them until they were clean. In the summer the front room had seagrass rugs that were so coarse that they would hurt your feet if you came in the house barefooted.
The center of attention in that front room was a large reverse-painted on glass painting of the Sinking of the Titanic. One end of the ship was under water and the other end was sticking out the water, almost straight up in the air! I had to stand on the black leather sofa to see the painting in detail - which I did all the time.
I was fascinated with the details! There were lifeboats and people jumping from the deck and survivors floating in the water. It seemed like every time I looked at the Titanic painting I saw more and more details. I could see some people jumping or falling from the ship; I could see them in the water. It looked like they were trying to get into the lifeboats and I could imagine them crying out to each other. There were curls of smoke coming out of the smokestacks and there were lights still on in some of the cabins. In the distance I could see icebergs. When I leaned in close enough, I could see lines hanging from the deck that the lifeboats were lowered on. Grandmother had told us there was a band playing on deck and that the band played until the very end. Sometimes I thought I could almost hear the music. All of us kids were enchanted with the painting and we talked in whispers about what it must have been like on that cold night out on the ocean when the unsinkable Titanic was sunk by an iceberg.
I’ll never hear about the Titanic without remembering the feeling of being a child in the country at Grandmother’s house with my sisters and brothers staring in wonder at the painting over the sofa.
Dorothy Lee Shortt Baumer